Pinellas hotels report 6 percent dip in room sales since Red Tide hit

CLEARWATER - Little has stood in the way of Pinellas County's explosive tourism growth in recent years. Then came Red Tide. The arrival of toxic algae blooms on Pinellas beaches two months ago has finally stalled ever-climbing hotel bookings: The latest data available shows a 6 percent dip in overnight room sales in September. That's the biggest dip local hotels have seen in years.

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The slower months of tourism season - and September is one of them - are sometimes flat in year-over-year hotel stays, or grow only slightly. But they are seldom down, except when a hurricane threatens.

"The worst of it was in October," said Tony Satterfield, the vice president of St. Pete Beach's Alden Suites Beachfront Resort and a board member of the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council. "We're beginning to see a real uptick in December (bookings) and there are a couple good signs the impacts may be going away."

Local hotel data is considered a key indicator of how the tourism industry is performing, but the numbers come out two months after the fact, making it difficult to account for Red Tide's toll in real time.

September's hotel stats were released during the Tourist Development Council's monthly meeting on Wednesday. The report shows Pinellas County hotels sold 350,612 room nights this September. Last year, hotels booked 22,103 more room nights in the same month.

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